The trip from Minnesota to Korea was probably the most nerve-racking part of this whole escapade. There would be a whole support system to make things work once I got to Korea, but it was just me and a jumble of coded messages and numbers on my tickets helping me get from airport to plane and back again.
Really, everything was going great for the first three flights. Takeoffs and landings, narrow seats with a great lack of legroom, and very little sleep made travel tough, but mostly everything was going fine.
I only brought the one backpack with me. I was so inspired to do this by über-traveler Rolf Potts, publisher of the exquisite travel guide, “Vagabonding”. Potts recently took a six week vacation of Europe and North Africa, carrying only what he could hold in a safari vest. If you have a minute, check out Six Weeks No Luggage. I sort of wish I had all my winter clothes and gym clothes and stuff, but I can get most of that here. There are lots of students from China who bring half of everything they own, but the flight from China is only two hours. It’s like taking a flight to go to school in Michgan. I assumed it would be good that I never had to look for luggage, seeing as I usually only had a half hour between these flights, but I was later told that on connecting flights they just transfer your luggage and you don’t have to do squat. Oh well.
So things were going pretty well until I got to San Francisco. Like most stops so far, I had about an hour in the airport to figure out where I was and which gate I had to go to. See, the San Francisco airport is set up with gates for domestic arrivals and departures in the middle of the terminal, with international arrivals on one far end and international departures on the other. Not knowing this, I hung around the arrivals gate for about 45 minutes trying to figure out where to go, asked a bunch of strangers in uniforms where I was supposed to go, and then attempted to run the length of the airport before my flight left. I didn’t make it. Now it’s definitely good that I only have one bag, because my other luggage would probably end up getting lost, or, best case scenario, playing Merry-Go-Round on the luggage rack in Seoul for 24 hours before I got there.
According to several nice ladies I talked to from Asiana Airlines, because of the way things are set up, at least one person per day flying internationally misses their flight. I was that person on August 23rd, 2011. Because I had missed my flight after the ticketing agent for the day had left, I would need to wait until tomorrow morning to buy a new ticket. The next flight from San Francisco to Seoul wasn’t leaving until following morning anyway, but buying my ticket would have been one more thing going right that would have helped put my mind at ease.
So now I’m grounded in a strange city where I know precisely nobody and have to chill out for about 16 hours. ‘Kay. I found some more nice ladies, this time at the information desk, who found me a relatively cheap hotel with free shuttle service. I felt a little bit worse about how crappy McStabby’s of Richfield was, considering that this “cheap hotel” had things like clean sheets and carpeting, breakfast, and a general air of comfort and security. I spent a good few hours sending frantic E-mails to my travel advisor in Korea. I couldn’t call anyone because, unsurprisingly, I didn’t get phone service in California when I can’t even get service in Peter’s basement.
My clothes by now are pretty foul after being worn for about two days. There is no laundromat to be found, but I had the example of Rolf Potts to lead me. That is, I washed my gym pants and Rochester Rogues T-shirt in the tub with shampoo, then hung them to dry on various surfaces in my hotel room. They probably weren’t 100% clean like washing them in a machine, but they were 85% clean, and that’s pretty good. They were a little damp the next morning, but they felt a lot better, and they smelled pleasantly like orange creamsicles.
Because everything I am carrying fits in one backpack, my only change of clothes for this trip is my black wool business suit, which is what I wore to Denny’s, table for one. I kind of wish it wasn’t so hot all the time, or I might wear suits more when going about town. I felt so 1930’s, wearing a suit and eating alone in a diner with the sun setting in the window next to me.
After that, things went smoothly. The shuttle bus left at 6am, so I didn’t have time to sit down for the complimentary breakfast. Instead, I shoved a bagel into my pocket and ran for the door. Airport security wasn’t as scary as they make it sound like in the newspaper, I got on my plane, and settled in for endless hours of waiting on the plane. By now I’m crazy nervous because I can’t believe I’m actually leaving the country. Everyone else on the plane has that calm, easygoing look on their faces like they’re going home, which they probably are, but where I’m going I won’t know anyone, speak the language, or have any idea how to get around in the world better than a five year old.
I would have tried to take some photos of the amazing food and the people all over the plane doing kung-fu styles stretches and exercises to keep loose during the flight, but I couldn’t get to my camera. I could barely fit into my seat with the three books I was holding or the pillow and slippers the flight attendants gave everyone. I carried those books in my hands or on my lap for the whole trip because they wouldn’t fit into my backpack. I’m kinda bummed about not having any pictures but whatever. If you ever get a chance, fly Asiana Airlines. They pretty much rocked. I have to give a shout-out to Peter and Meagan at this point, who encouraged me to buy a brand new book from Barnes and Nobles to entertain myself on the flight. (A.J. Jacobs, “The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment.” Almost anything by A.J. Jacobs is worth reading. I read it about twice on the plane.) It would have been a much, much longer flight without a great book. 12 hours + nothing to do but play Angry Birds and nap would have been like being trapped in an elevator with 200 people. Thank you, Peter and Meagan. Keep being awesome.
That’s all for the flight. This post feeeeeeels like it got really long and boring, so I’ll talk about my first night in Korea later. Everyone, get up and stretch before surfing any more web.